When hunting season is over and the woods are soft and quiet with snow and when you struggle to get outside during the dark, cold, winter days, that is the perfect time to trap beavers.
I trapped my first beaver three years ago. My friend Jeff lost a few apple trees to the creatures, so I volunteered to try trapping them. The small, meandering stream on his property was frozen over, which made spotting fresh beaver signs easier, but setting traps harder.
Jeff was unaware of a typical mound-shaped beaver den, but my mentor at the time, Jonathon, explained that the beavers were likely living in a bank den (a den that undercut up under the bank). The three of us walked along the frozen stream until we found fresh beaver sign consisting of:
— Freshly chewed sticks under the ice.
— Multiple lines of bubbles under the ice, indicating a frequent route where beavers swim.
— Frost on the riverbank, caused by the breathing of beavers in the bank den.
After chiseling a hole through the 3-inch-thick ice, I set one 330 Conibear trap outside what we guessed was the bank den, and a few days later I had my first beaver. It tasted surprisingly delicious, and I had its fur made into a hat and mittens.
Scouting, setting traps, checking traps and processing beavers is very time consuming, so I only do it a few times a year. It is not worth the money — one pelt might fetch $8 at a fur auction — although the castor glands from the same beaver may fetch $10 to $20.
Castor sacs are a pair of glands near the anus of both male and female beavers. Castor is usually used in perfume, but has been used to flavor ice cream, chewing gum and many other foods for the past century. You won’t see it listed on the ingredients list; it’s included under “natural flavors.”
I prefer to keep the furs for myself. I have a hat and mittens and a neck gaiter. There are a couple of hooped beaver furs hanging on my wall. I split and fleshed the beaver tails and had them tanned into leather so I can make a wallet, knife sheath or coasters.
Recently, my friend Jeanie passed her trapper’s safety course and was eager to set some traps. Along with our mutual friend, Jason, the three of us headed to Pownal to try to trap a nuisance beaver my friend had complained about.
We didn’t see any beaver tracks in the snow along the riverbank but found recently chewed stumps, so we decided to give it a try. Jeanie put on her neoprene waders, stood in the partially frozen stream and set two Conibear traps that Jason lent her.
The traps hunted while we slept.
Three days later, Jeanie and I went to check on them. It was like Christmas morning. Was today the day? Would there be a beaver in her trap — a beaver in each trap?
I shared my different beaver cooking methods with her on our drive. I appreciated fresh meat in the middle of winter and beaver, unlike most wild game, is fatty, which makes it more delicious.
We arrived at her traps. The first one was untouched so we left it to soak for another three days. But the second one had been moved. Jeanie pulled on the cable secured to the trap and it slowly emerged from the icy water.
“A foot!” I exclaimed when I spotted it. Jeanie had trapped her first furbearer: a large male mink.
The nostalgia of trapping appeals to me. Unlike almost everything else in this world, trapping has yet to be modernized. You don’t use anything “fancy” or “techy.” Just go out to the woods, with your wits and your steel, like the mountain men of the 19th century.